About 12,600 opportunities.
That’s how many Afghan refugees temporarily live at Fort McCoy, awaiting resettlement by agencies that will help place them with sponsors in communities willing, nay lucky, to help them transition to life in America.
Lucky, because they have so much to teach us by the example of their lives, about sacrifice and what really matters. When these displaced people fan out across America, we will learn how their families and friends were uprooted for doing no more than assisting our troops during a seemingly unending war that has left their country in the hands of the same murderous thugs who occupied so much of it 20 years ago.
After they get vaccinated, complete paperwork allowing them to work and begin to learn English, these people who have endured a harrowing journey from Afghanistan to America will leave the base between Sparta and Tomah — 104 miles west of Ripon.
Wouldn’t it be great if several individuals or families resettled in our city?
Perhaps clergy belonging to the Ripon Area Ministerial Association could work with their churches to each “adopt” a family, helping them find places to live and work, assisting them with acculturation while preserving their own sense of community by welcoming multiple families to settle in Ripon.
“I was a stranger and you invited me in…,” reminds the passage from the book of Matthew (25:35).
Ripon is no stranger to refugee resettlement.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the First Congregational Church of Ripon helped resettle 60 persons, primarily Latvians, a story told in the book “When a Woman Wills” by the late Ripon resident Bev Thomann.
One of them, Irma Racenis, died two years ago in Milwaukee. She and husband Karlis arrived in Ripon after escaping Russian invaders and moving to a displaced persons center at Camp Fischbach in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1949.
The Racenis family lived here on the 200 block of Scott Street for 36 years, with Irma handling billing and invoicing at the Ripon Knitting Works (later Admanco) and Karlis doing drafting and design at Speed Queen, while they raised two children, Karlis Jr. and Inese, both Ripon High School graduates.
More recently, interested members of the community gathered to form the Ripon Area Refugee Assistance (RARA) group, helping settle an extended Congolese family in Oshkosh five years ago.
To pair itself with the family, RARA worked through World Relief-Fox Valley — a Christian, humanitarian organization that helps integrate immigrants in vulnerable situations to area communities.
World Relief-Fox Valley is slated to resettle 100 Afghan refugees over the next six months. This could be a mix of individuals and families. While World Relief previously has settled many refugees in Oshkosh, there is no reason why they can’t land in Ripon, which has available rental housing, a plethora of jobs, a fine school system and a college.
Perhaps the Ripon Area Chamber of Commerce could hold a meeting to gather together employers (e.g. Alliance Laundry Systems), church representatives, landlords and other parties interested in helping raise Ripon’s visibility and viability to World Relief. If successful, it could introduce the community to Afghans and then help them settle while sensitive to their housing, transportation, educational, employment and certainly cultural needs.
As long as there have been politics there have been political refugees. Living in America, we recognize that not too long ago it was our forefathers and foremothers who were, as we are reminded in Emma Lazurus’ poem “The New Colussus,” the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
This modern day Afghan diaspora simply continues a centuries-old pattern of people leaving their homelands to escape political persecution.
Refugees are landing on our doorsteps.
Ripon should put out its welcome mat and organize to make sure that we let World Relief and others know that we’d be privileged to usher into our community those who deserve relief from past persecution.
In that same book of Matthew comes Jesus’ counsel, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Refugees in Ripon — again?
We should be so lucky.
— Tim Lyke